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GNH : Happiness Is More Important Than Wealth In Bhutan

Updated on August 31, 2016
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Happiness is more important than wealth in Bhutan

GNH or Gross National Happiness is an indicator to measure the level of happiness of a nation’s population. Or so it seems in Bhutan. The term “gross national happiness” was first coined in 1972 by the fourth king of Bhutan, Jigme Singye Wangchuk, as a measurement indicator to gauge the level of happiness of his people. In place of GDP or gross domestic product which measures the level of a country’s economic progress, the king chose to measure his people’s level of happiness instead. GNH is influenced by the Buddhist principles that everything is inter-connected, and any development should take into consideration of the inter-connectedness between humans and the environment. Beneficial development can only be sustained if material, spiritual and environmental considerations are weighed together and are in harmony. The Bhutanese government believes that a day should be divided into three parts; work, leisure and rest. In this approach to governance, its people will enjoy a happy life.

Location of Bhutan

Map of Bhutan

How to measure GNH

Levels of happiness are very subjective and near impossible to measure in mathematical precision. However, the Bhutanese government has been serious in its mission to set priority on its people’s happiness above all else. Bhutan is the only nation in the world to boast of a Gross National Happiness Commission (GNHC) which reports to the Prime Minister. It conducts surveys once every two years based on the happiness indicators. Every government policy has to be scrutinized by the Happiness Commission to ensure that each is in line with the happiness guidelines.

The Bhutanese government has come out with a specific measurement guideline in the form of four pillars of GNH namely :

1. Promotion of sustainable development

2. Preservation and promotion of cultural values

3. Conservation of the natural environment

4. Establishment of good governance

From these four pillars, they formulated a set of eight general contributors to happiness :

1. Physical, mental and spiritual health

2. Time balance

3. Social and community vitality

4. Cultural vitality

5. Education

6. Living standards

7. Good governance

8. Ecological vitality

From these contributors, they further formulated a total of 72 detailed indicators to measure GNH.

King Jigme Singye Wangchuck (4th king) with his 4 wives

The 4th king crowns his son as King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuk

King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuk, the current 5th king

The 5th king kisses his queen

Where is Bhutan, and who is this king, by the way?

Bhutan, is a tiny patch of highland about the size of Switzerland, sandwiched between two giants, China in the north, and India in the south. If either one sneezes, Bhutan will definitely catch the flu! Bhutan is believed to be the real Shangri-La. It is a country where you find nature in its pristine form, where animals can roam freely without fear of being harmed as hunting in Bhutan is prohibited. The country is committed to preserve its culture and its laid-back way of life, and has passed laws to ensure that its people wear the traditional dress, speak the local language, and construct buildings based on Bhutanese architecture. To prevent “tourism pollution”, Bhutan has imposed a strict quota of tourists entering the country. Actually you need to pay a fee for each day to visit Bhutan!

Bhutan is a fascinating country with a far-sighted king who so loved his people that he stripped himself of all absolute power, so that his people can choose a democratic government. It all started with the fourth king of Bhutan, King Jigme Singye Wangchuck who in 2006 voluntarily abdicated his throne after more than 30 years as an absolute monarch. He was born in 1955 and was educated in England. At the age of just 17 years old when his father died, he had to assume kingship. Perhaps having seen industrial development and the heavy price nations had to pay for it, he was more in favour of a more wholesome development based on the level of happiness of his people.

The king’s philosophy was mainly influenced by the Buddhist principles which viewed all living beings having their basic right to exist and co-exist. As such hunting is prohibited and wild animals are free to roam the well-protected forest.

However, there was one unfortunate incident in 2003, when the King had to prevent Indian insurgents from setting up training camps in Bhutan and attacking India across the border. The King had no choice but to act, lest India showed her wrath on his tiny kingdom. When the King’s repeated appeals to the insurgents to leave Bhutan peacefully were ignored, he had little choice but to embark on a military attack on these insurgents. The military campaign was a success but many lives were lost on both sides. Instead of rejoicing, the King ordered lighting of butter lamps to pray for the dead from both sides. Such was the compassionate personality of the king.

In 2006, King Jigme Singye Wangchuk voluntarily abdicated, and passed the throne to his young son, who on 6 November 2008, was proclaimed as King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuk. The new king studied in the U S and U K, graduated from Magdalen College, University of Oxford.

The current dashing 5th king and queen

Some fascinating facts about Bhutan

  • Bhutan was the last nation to have introduced the television in 1999. This was swiftly followed by the introduction of the internet and other telecommunication services.
  • Bhutan has never been colonized by any foreign power, a feat only matched by Thailand, within the region.
  • Parliament has the power to impeach the king. This power was initiated by the fourth king himself, King Jigme Singye Wangchuk who insisted that “it is the system, not the throne, which is important. A monarchy is not the best form of government because a King is chosen by birth and not by merit.” The king must also retire at age 65, same as any civil servant in Bhutan.
  • Members of Parliament must be graduates, while candidates for local council elections only need to be functionally literate but must have 15% of the voters’ signatures.
  • There are no traffic lights in Bhutan.
  • Bhutanese are required by law to wear the 14th century traditional garments.
  • There are no beggars and homeless people in Bhutan.
  • A man can have more than one wife. And in real gender equality, a woman can also have more than one husband, although it is not common in practice.
  • Education and health care are free. And believe it or not, children are taught in English.

A happy kingdom with happy people

Perhaps the happiest occasion in Bhutan recently was the royal wedding of the current fifth king who married the beautiful Jetsun Pema on 13 October 2011.

Very happily, the Secretary of the Gross National Happiness Commission (GNHC), Karma Tshiteem declares, “We are in the early stages of this very exciting journey.”

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Silver Donald Cameron - Bhutan: The Pursuit of Gross National Happiness

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Bhutan's Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay shares his country's mission to put happiness before economic growth.


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    • Goodpal profile image


      4 years ago

      Happiness is wealth !!!!

    • KenWu profile image


      7 years ago from Malaysia

      This is a good read on Bhutan. This is the first time I learn quite a lot about a country with passionate mind.


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